HL Deb 04 July 1974 vol 353 cc376-439

4.35 p.m.

House again in Committee.

[The LORD GRENFELL in the Chair.]

LORD WYNNE-JONES moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 3, line 27, after ("representatives") insert ("and the appropriate scientific and technical organisations").

The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I wish to call attention to something which, although it underlies much of the thinking behind the Bill, is not stated sufficiently explicitly, and that is, the necessity for having expert technical advice inside factories. The Bill quite rightly provides for consultation, for proper committees to be set up between the employers and the employees, but it does not specifically require an employer to take expert advice. Many of the problems which arise inside any factory are necessarily ones which are concerned with the ordinary working of things inside the factory. For example, there may be machine tools, and it is necessary to ensure that proper precautions are taken in using those tools, that the guards are employed and that employees do not take unnecessary risks in order to carry out their work.

In the same way one gets all kinds of problems arising, such as the fire risk which occurs in every factory in the country where, as a result of a spark and combustible material lying about there may be a serious fire. These are the most obvious risks and indeed I suppose most accidents occur in consequence of the disregard of the ordinary, relatively simple precautions that should be taken, and these can be appropriately dealt with by a works committee. However, there are certain risks which arise in factories, and with the increasing development of technology we are likely to find that these risks become greater as time goes on. In consequence of this we may get a devastating explosion, we may get some appalling disaster inside the place which could not have been anticipated by the ordinary worker, and perhaps not by management. I am sure that many people have come across these. I have somewhat accidentally come across them during my life.

I remember one occasion during the last war when I was working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and we were at that time producing in this country the famous Lancaster bomber, which was the main bomber used by the Royal Air Force. The bomber was being produced in large quantities; it was an extremely important machine. I happened to be the chairman of the fire-risk panel at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, and there was brought to our attention the fact that (I think it was) 20 Lancaster bombers were blown up on the production line. They exploded because petrol had been put into the engines and then petrol was drained out, and they thought that draining out the petrol left the engines safe. Actually, a lean mixture—a mixture with little petrol and a lot of air—is much more dangerous than a rich mixture where there is much petrol and where an explosion usually will not occur. These blew up because I believe in this particular case a match was struck and one of the engines exploded and all twenty aircraft were wrecked. This type of thing may not occur every day, but it can occur in every factory and the mere fact that people are good engineers does not mean that they are also expert in explosions and in all the other risks which may occur in factories.

I can quote as another example a case in which I was asked by a lawyer to give expert evidence, where a widow was offered compensation which was considered inadequate. Her husband had been killed in a factory. The occupants of the factory were carrying out a new process. They had themselves built an electric furnace, roughly 4 feet in diameter and about 6 feet high. The widow's husband was not a technologist, but an unskilled man. He was expected to put a charge into the furnace every so many hours. He had to tip the charge in at the top, and everything was going on perfectly well. But one evening, when he was there by himself, the charge somehow got jammed in the furnace, the furnace blew up and the whole lot came over him at a temperature of about 1,500 degrees. He was killed immediately. His widow was offered some small compensation. I was asked my opinion because the factory, working through its normal insurance organisation, was not prepared to admit that it had done anything wrong in the matter of the very small, in fact, pitifully small, compensation offered to the widow. I was asked for an opinion. It was with great difficulty that I got any details about the process. When finally I did, I said that no proper precautions had been taken; that personally, if I had been carrying out the process in my own laboratory I would have taken many more precautions, and I was prepared to appear in court and say so. In consequence, the woman got ten times the compensation she was originally offered.

These are points which arise in a factory where they may be doing something which they think is all right, and there is no reason to suppose that the employees in the factory would themselves be suspicious that anything would go wrong. But an outside expert, knowing something about what was going on, would say, "Look, you cannot do it that way. It is too risky ". Therefore, I believe there ought to be written into this Bill the quite clear obligation on employers to consult scientific and technical organisations to get the appropriate advice. That is why I move this Amendment. I beg to move.


It would seem to me that this Amendment has considerable merit. While I feel we have many technical and scientific experts employed in the various factories where these regulations will apply, there is always pressure on them to obtain productivity. At the end of the day, if there is a balance between achieving productivity and having some regard to safety, productivity can win, particularly in times of financial stress. I think this is most vividly revealed in the number of cases that trade unions take to courts, and in which their members are awarded damages because the employers in some way have neglected to take the necessary precautions.

This possibility is heightened in this progressive age, when new materials, new methods and new machines are constantly being introduced into factories. A great deal of care needs to be taken in their use. If we had organisations of this nature, the first thing that would be introduced would be an unbiased opinion, the second would be a highly skilled opinion, and the third would be an effective opinion which would reduce the tendency of some of our very able scientific and technical people in factories to opt for productivity rather than safety when those occasions occur. I think the Amendment is worth while, and I cannot see how there can be any opposition to it. I support my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones in his Amendment.


I would not quarrel in any way with the need to have proper technical advice in any case such as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. On the other hand, I cannot see that this is going to be a workable Amendment. How is a factory manager or owner to know which are the appropriate scientific and technical organisations? The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, knows well that there are many technical organisations involved in almost every aspect of factory work. Someone has to decide which are appropriate to any one company. It seems to me that this is an extremely difficult thing to define.


Might I just comment on that remark about which I can see the point. In fact, I had thought about it myself. But I think the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, would agree that when one comes to consider whom to consult in the realm of the scientific and technical organisations, really there are about half a dozen major ones only that need to be consulted, bodies like the Mechanical Engineers, the Electrical Engineers, the Chemical Engineers—and one has practically disposed of them. One is not required to consider every conceivable organisation. If the employees themselves thought someone else ought to be consulted, they would have the machinery here to say "We want to have so-and-so consulted."

4.47 p.m.


I accept the validity of the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones, and his purpose in moving it. I also accept the support given by my noble friend Lord Douglass of Cleveland, namely, to ensure that employers make full use of scientific and technical expertise in devising their safety arrangements. But with respect, I do not think that this Amendment will further that aim. I think the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, put his finger on the matter when he said it was not workable. I think my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones accepts that there are drafting difficulties in his Amendment. But apart from that, in a Bill of this sort it would be extremely difficult to make this a statutory condition, when the Bill is concerned with penalties, in fact criminal penalties, under its other sections.

One of the principal aims of the Bill is to ensure that greater expertise is brought to bear on health and safety problems whenever possible, and the new organisation which the Bill creates will provide a focus for such expertise. We expect the Commission and its Executive to make the fullest use of scientific and technical expertise and facilities on its advisory committees, on technical Working Parties and on the preparation of new regulations, in the conduct of research and testing, and in many other ways. We must remember that one of the great advantages of this Bill is that it is an enabling Bill.

In addition, there are various ways in which the powers of the Bill can be used to stimulate employers to seek expert and specialised advice. This, I think, would cover the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, when he stressed the need for an unbiased and unskilled opinion, and for effective opinion. At first, regulations can require employers to do specific things of a kind which may, in some cases, entail the use of specialised services; for example, regular air samplings. Regulations may also require that various types of equipment must be inspected by the designated bodies.

Secondly, I do not think that we should forget the tremendous importance of the codes of practice which will be approved by the Commission; these may give detailed guidance on how to comply with the basic statutory duties, and in appropriate cases they will include information and advice about what scientific and technical organisations should be consulted by employers about particular processes or problems. I would think this is the correct way to go about it, and it is the way to achieve the end which I know my noble friend wants. I do not think that it is possible to achieve it through his Amendment.

I would, if I may, spend a moment dealing with a point which my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones raised concerning difficulties sometimes experienced by injured people or their relatives when they are not given proper facilities for investigating the cause of the injury. It is extremely important that this was raised in this manner although an Amendment was not put down. An Amendment on this very point was tabled in another place, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment promised to consider it with a view to introducing a Government Amendment in this House. Therefore, I am very grateful to my noble friend because it gives me the opportunity to explain the insuperable difficulties we have encountered in trying to insert a clause to achieve this desired effect. The justifications put forward in another place for a provision in the Bill to deal with this point were twofold, and if the Committee will bear with me, I think it is important that this matter should be discussed and recorded.

First, it was argued that safety representatives in a workplace should be able to investigate the scene of an accident without hindrance to see what lessons might be learned for future accident prevention purposes. These would not be investigations on behalf of an injured person, but rather investigations con- nected with the general functions of safety representatives in a workplace, as set out in Clause 2 and in the regulations which will be made under it. We think that this objective is absolutely fair and proper and it can be achieved under the Bill as drafted, because regulations made under Clause 2(4) confer functions on safety representatives and may empower them to investigate the scene of an accident, and it is the intention that the regulations should, in fact, do so.

Secondly, it was argued that a provision was necessary to enable the legal, technical or other representatives of an injured person to investigate an accident without hindrance with a view to establishing possible grounds for a civil action for compensation. This again was one of the very points which my noble friend stressed. But this, I regret, is an area in which we run into difficulties. First, it is doubtful whether such an objective is within the scope of the Bill, since the Bill is concerned with the prevention of accidents and is not concerned with securing compensation for injured persons. Secondly, the whole subject of civil liability and compensation is under review by the Pearson Commission, and clearly we should do nothing in legislation that will in any way cut across the Commission's findings and recommendations

Finally, and most importantly, there is already a civil procedure aimed at ensuring that those wishing to inspect the scene of an accident on behalf of an injured person when proceedings for compensation are or may be contemplated are not prevented from doing so. This is another example of one of the (unfortunately) many situations where people are not aware of their own rights and, therefore, are unable to exercise them. By giving publicity to these rights, both here, and, I hope, when the Commission is set up, people will know them and will exercise them. I am confident, therefore, that the Bill as drafted already ensures that much greater use can and will be made of technical and scientific organisations in dealing with health and safety problems. I would finally add that my noble friend has been very helpful towards the spirit of this legislation by highlighting his important point by means of an Amendment, and he will be even more helpful if he does not press it.


Naturally, I am anxious to be helpful. The noble Baroness has said that the Bill already contains suitable clauses—in fact, it contains a suitable structure—to enable the best scientific and technical advice to be taken all the way through. But she has referred to the bodies which control the whole of the Inspectorate, the Commission and the Executive. The purpose of my Amendment was to bring expert advice in at the factory. We know perfectly well that we can have excellent central organisations, we can have good research organisations, like the Building Research Station, but it does not mean that every building that goes up in this country is a good one. The difficulty is to translate the excellent work of a central organisation into effective work on the shop floor. That is really the purpose of my Amendment. I do not wish to hold up progress on the Bill, and I hope that the noble Baroness and her advisers will pay attention to this point and see whether something can be done by regulation. With the permission of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

4.57 p.m.

THE EARL OF COURTOWN moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 3, line 36, after ("committee") insert ("or other suitable arrangement").

The noble Earl said: On Second Reading I made some quotations from the Robens Committee Report which made it clear that the Committee thought that flexibility should be maintained in the organisation of safety in a working establishment. In paragraph 70 the Report says: The form and manner of such consultation and participation would not be specfied in detail, so as to provide the flexibility needed to suit a wide variety of particular circumstances and to avoid prejudicing satisfactory existing arrangements.

They went on to say that guidance should be given in a code of practice as to the best way of achieving this.

A committee is only a means to an end. Often there will be a better involvement of management and workpeople through direct contact, along with safety representatives, with all the members of the workforce without the setting up of a safety committee. This would be the case in small establishments where a safety committee might conceivably be superfluous, and it is these small establishments where there is the greatest need for more consciousness of the requirements of safety. In other cases, the Works Committee, dealing with other subjects as well as safety, may be the best answer.

It may be said that even without this Amendment the Secretary of State could issue regulations that in certain circumstances the safety committee is not necessary. We have to cope, however, with the people who will read the Bill, and on reading the Bill as it stands it will appear to them that a safety committee is regarded as essential in all cases. This Amendment, therefore, makes it clear that another suitable arrangement can be approved as well as an actual safety committee. I beg to move.

5.0 p.m.


I have had some experience in this particular field, albeit many years ago. In the works in which I was employed, which was a fairly large works, we had a works committee which did some excellent pioneering work in respect of works committees. It also took within its ambit the work of the safety committee. However, experience after some time showed us that the safety work was always subordinate to all the other work that the works council had to discuss and come to decisions on. For that reason, it was agreed that if safety was going to have the weight that it ought to have in the organisation then a special safety committee had to be set up.

As the years have rolled by, a great deal of legislation has been passed concerning safety, and it is very necessary that the members of a safety committee should have pretty full knowledge of that legislation that has been passed, because without that it cannot possibly do its job. This leads to the argument that we had on the Amendment that was taken to a Division. If you are going to have legislation of this particular character, it has to be backed up not merely by members of a safety committee, but by an organisation which has specialists in legislation, and can advise those members of the safety committee when necessary as to what rights they have to demand that certain safety measures be set up.

I can remember—and here I shall take your Lordships outside this country—a rather extreme case that I met with when I went to Russia. This shows what can happen when they accept legislation proposed at the I.L.O. with respect to safety materials. The legislation concerned safety garments, helmets, and things of that character. In one works in Leningrad we noted that the workers did not have the safety clothing that we expected them to have as a consequence of the I.L.O. discussions in Geneva. We said to the management, "Look, this legislation has been supported by your people in Geneva. Where is it on the job?" They said, "Yes, comrades, we have all this protective clothing. It is in the stores." They actually abide by legislation when they do things like that.

I am not suggesting that such extreme disobedience would take place in this country, but I am showing what can happen when you come to deal with legislative matters; and you are dealing with legislative matters so far as safety committees are concernd. There is a tendency, both as regards workmen and employers, to ignore safety regulations if the wearing of the clothing is uncomfortable, impedes the productivity that they want to achieve, or if the employer does not want to be bothered with getting the stuff for these people. In such circumstances, the safety regulations are not applied. If you just introduce a clause introducing "other suitable arrangements" you are opening a door that will weaken the tremendous work that has been done in respect of safety, and the need for a safety committee in each factory dealing with safety matters only and with people who have become specialist in that particular work.


I think that the noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, probably worked in a fairly large enterprise at the period he was speaking about many years ago, and that his experience may not be typical of the situation discussed by the noble Earl who moved the Amendment. The noble Earl was talking particularly about smaller enterprises, where the machinery of a separate safety committee might be rather cumbersome because there would not be enough things to discuss on the agenda of the ordinary works council meeting to exclude safety, as happened in the case described by the noble Lord, Lord Douglass. Wherever possible in this Bill one ought to aim at the maximum degree of flexibility, and not rigidly enforce machinery which may be very convenient in particular cases—I can imagine that that would be so in the steel industry—but in the smaller firms would be entirely unsuitable.

The noble Lord said that this Amendment would weaken the requirement here. I do not see that that is so, because the right of the Secretary of State to lay down regulations in accordance with which the safety committee, or other suitable arrangements, would be established remains there in the clause. The Secretary of State, in his wisdom, could say that in enterprises of above a certain size he would always accept the request of the safety representative to establish a committee, but in the smaller establishments some other and more appropriate means of achieving the same objectives could be devised, and this would obviously be incorporated in the regulations. But this Amendment gives the Secretary of State greater freedom of action, and I should have thought, therefore, that the Government would welcome it.


I appreciate the spirit of the Amendment put down by the noble Earl, Lord Courtown. Quite clearly, he wants to ensure that the provisions are sufficiently flexible to allow existing satisfactory arrangements to continue in being, and to allow arrangements other than the establishment of a safety committee to be made. I can have no objection to that, but I feel that his Amendment would cause confusion and difficulty. Prima facie, it would give safety representatives the legal right to ask for something other than a safety committee, but the Amendment specifies that the alternative to safety committees is to be "other suitable arrangements". I am afraid that this rather begs the question. Who will say what is suitable? If it is to be whatever is agreed between the safety representatives and the employer, then the idea is reasonable. But the Amendment is unnecessary because there is no need to provide for agreed arrangements in legislation. The safety representatives would have no need to ask for such arrangements as of right. But if it is to be the employer who determines what is suitable, then what becomes of the rights of the safety representatives which the clause seeks to establish? It is this ambiguous phrasing, which seems to me to be a grave source of potential trouble.

If I may, with the permission of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, refer to the second Amendment that he had down but did not move, I would have pointed out that the effect of this Amendment would have been to require an employer to consult safety representatives and then, regardless of what was said, to proceed to set up a safety committee. This Amendment would clearly have required an employer subject to the regulations to set up a committee willy-nilly, even if he already had perfectly good arrangements which were acceptable to his workpeople. This is just what the noble Earl's Amendments seeks to avoid.

I must reiterate to him, and to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who worried that the present position, as drafted, may cut across existing satisfactory arrangements, that there is nothing in this clause which precludes the making on a voluntary agreed basis of alternative arrangements to safety committees. There is of course nothing which obliges a safety representative to exercise the right to ask for a safety committee to be set up, if he, and those whom he represents, are happy with whatever voluntary arrangements exist already. Of course the regulations requiring employers to establish safety committees at the request of a safety representative, could specifically exempt workplaces where alternative arrangements agreed by both sides to be satisfactory existed. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl will find that these words I have used reassure him that what he has sought to do in this Amendment can be accomplished, and in, the circumstances of which he spoke, would almost certainly be the normal course of events. I hope that he will find it possible, therefore, to withdraw his Amendment.


I find myself somewhat puzzled by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, because he went almost too fast for me in explaining something that I found rather complicated—perhaps not being very good at reading Bills. I should like to read what he has said in the light of my Amendment and the rest of this subsection. But, meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


Before the noble Earl withdraws his Amendment, may I say that if on reading what I have said he feels some doubt about the matter and would like to speak to me before the next stage of the Bill, I should be very happy to arrange such a meeting.


I think that that may be the case. On a quick reading of the clause as it now stands, it seems that one has to have a safety committee, unless the Secretary of State issues regulations to the contrary. I accept what the noble Lord says. I shall read his remarks carefully. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [General duty of persons in control of certain premises in relation to harmful emissions into atmosphere]:

5.11 p.m.

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 5, line 6, at end insert— ("The reference in subsection (1) above to the means to be used for the purposes there mentioned includes a reference to the manner in which the plant provided for those purposes is used and to the supervision of any operation involving the emission of the substances to which that subsection applies.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment, which is a clarifying Amendment. Clause 5 places a duty on owners or occupiers of premises, which repeats in substance the key duty in the Alkali Act 1906; that is: "to use the best practical means" to control emissions to the air. The new subsection clarifies what is intended by the word "means" in the expression "best practical means" and thus repeats in substance the definition of "best practical means" which is contained in Section 27 of the Alkali Act. The definition is needed to make clear that "means" refers not only to plant and appliances but that it also includes the manner in which plant is used and the supervision of the operations concerned. I beg to move.


May I ask, with reference to the wording of the proposed Amendment, whether the manner in which the plant provided for those purposes is used covers the cases—the noble Lord will be aware of the particular instance in my mind—where the plant is not being used for the production process but is being modified in some way to make it more modern, to alter the process itself—for instance, where engineers are putting in new pipe work, perhaps new pressure vessels so that the plant is not being used for the normal production at that time, but where risks could arise which were even more serious than in the normal operation? Does the phrase introduced by the Amendment cover those eventualities?


The purpose of bringing in the Amendment was to make it perfectly clear that use of the words "by practical means", was not just a narrow intention but was, in fact, to cover the whole possible range. In the circumstances to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred, if a plant which has been designed in a particular way is being modified and used in an amended or even in a different form, it seems to me as a layman that if one covers the manner in which the plant is used it obviously covers the point to which the noble Lord has referred, because whether it is the original purpose, or another purpose, the plant is in fact being used, so the manner in which it is being used will come under consideration.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 [General duties of manufacturers etc. as regards articles and substances for use at work.]

5.14 p.m.

LORD AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 6, line 41, at end insert: (8A) Where a person designs an article for use at work in accordance with instructions given to him by his employer, the carrying out of those instructions shall have the effect of relieving that person from the duty imposed by subsection (1)(a) above. (8B) (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (8A) above where in the opinion of a person who is instructed by his employer to design an article for use at work, the article, if designed in accordance with his instructions will not comply with the standards laid down in subsection (1)(a) above, it shall be the duty of that person to give to his employer notice in writing of that opinion, setting out his opinion and his reasons therefor. (b) If after receiving a notice under paragraph (a) above the employer still requires the article to which the notice relates to be designed in accordance with the instructions, previously given, it shall be the duty of the employer to forward a copy of the notice with such observations as the employer considers appropriate to the Executive. (8C) Where in the course of his employment a person is responsible for laying down the tests to be carried out to satisfy the provisions of sub-section (1)(b) above and in his opinion the tests adopted by his employer do not satisfy those requirements, it shall be the duty of that person to give notice of his opinion to his employer and the provisions of subsection (8B) above shall apply to such notice and to the procedure to be followed thereafter as if for references in that sub-section to the design of an article there were substituted references to the laying down of tests ".

The noble Lord said: Clause 6 deals with the liability of persons who design, manufacture, import or supply any article for use at work. The Amendment which I am proposing deals first with the potential criminal liability of employed persons where they may fail to discharge the duty laid upon them by Clause 6(1)(a) to ensure that the article which they have designed is safe and where they are acting on the instructions of an employer, which instructions they may consider are not designed to secure the safety of that article. This point was raised by the Council of Engineering Institutions with the Secretary of State when the Bill was in another place. The Government told the chairman of the C.E.I. that they were seized of it. For this reason they introduced what is now Clause 7 as an amendment to the Bill as drafted by the last Administration. The Council accept, of course, that the Secretary of State was advised that with this addition the employee is protected from any potential criminal liability, but it would prefer a positive form of wording, such as I propose in the Amendment.

Then we come to subsection 8(a) (b) and (c) which are designed to cope with another question; that is to say, that even if the criminal liability aspects are dealt with satisfactorily, there still remains a potential conflict between the professional engineer's code of conduct which imposes on him an obligation. similar to that contained in Clause 6(1)(a). I quote: To safeguard the public interest in matters of safety and health."— a potential conflict between that obligation and an instruction which may have been given to the engineer by his employer. The two subsections are to cope with the position of the employed design engineer and the employed chief inspector respectively, where they are given instructions which in their opinion may not adequately take account of health and safety considerations.

It may be that such an eventuality is extremely remote. I have made inquiries and it does not seem that examples of a conflict between the engineer's code of conduct and the instructions given by his employer can be quoted to your Lordships, which seems to confirm that it would have happened only rarely in the past. But if, under the Bill, one lays down a definite procedure dealing with the matter, one could eliminate any residual danger that a professional engineer, in those circumstances, would come into conflict with his employer and, by breaching his code of conduct, would risk the displeasure of, and possible reprisals from, the employer at a later date. So I have provided in subsection (8)(a), (b) and (c) that, in these circumstances, the employee could issue a notice and that where a genuine conflict of opinion exists between the engineer and his employer it would be resolved by the independent intervention of the executive. I am sure that if the Government were prepared to add these Amendments to the Bill they would greatly relieve the potential anxieties of employed engineers who, although they may never face such a situation, would perhaps always have it at the back of their minds that such a conflict might arise, I beg to move.


Although I am going to resist the Amendment, it is not because I disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, seeks to achieve, but because, despite the fears which he has expressed, I think the Bill already secures these aims. I would hope to be able to persuade your Lordships of that.

First, the new subsection (8)(a) would ensure that the duty of designers in Clause 6 did not bite on employees acting under their employers' instructions. In fact, we shared the noble Lord's doubt about the position of the employee-designer. One of the changes which he said the Government made to the last Administration's Bill before re-introducing it, was to insert subsection (7) in Clause 6. This provides that the duties in the clause bite only on those carrying on a trade, business or other undertaking; that is, employers and the self-employed. Clause 6 does not therefore apply to employees.

Secondly, the noble Lord's Amendments would seek to place duties on employees designed to strengthen the part that they can play in ensuring that safety is "built-in" to plant used in industry. I think that the essence of this duty, if not the specific instances covered by these Amendments, is already covered by the duty which Clause 7 places on all employees. That clause places duties on all employees both to take reasonable care to ensure that their acts or omissions do not endanger others, and to co-operate with their employers in helping them to fulfil their statutory duties. Clearly, therefore, an employee who thought that a design was suspect, or that a proposed test was inadequate, should tell his employers so in pursuance of his general duty.

The third limb of these Amendments would place employers under a duty to inform the Executive about any doubts expressed by their employees. This is the part of the Amendment about which I have very serious reservations. I do not think it would be conducive to employer-employee co-operation, and I do not think it would be an easy task to enforce in practice. Moreover, it is important to avoid encouraging any widespread use of the Executive as an arbiter responsible for pronouncing on the safety of any and every piece of plant or equipment that is being produced. This takes responsibility away from its proper location; responsibility should rest firmly on the manufacturers and others who are placed under a basic duty by the Bill, to ensure that the plant they design and manufacture is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe. In specific instances—where, for instance, it would be appropriate for the Inspectorate to have information about the conduct and results of tests on plant or substances—regulations can be made requiring the notifica- tion of such information to the Executive, as paragraph 15 of Schedule 3 makes clear. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, knows, it is intended that the Commission should establish a notification scheme on this basis for new, potentially toxic chemicals, under which information about the conduct and results of tests would be notified to the Commission

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for having put forward this Amendment because it has enabled me to make these explanations and to have them on the Record. I hope that what I have said about these general duties which will affect various people involved in producing goods for use at work will persuade the noble Lord that he would be justified in withdrawing his Amendment.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his careful explanation, and for the categorical assurance he has given that the additional subsection (7), which was introduced into the Bill by the Government, makes it clear that the criminal liability otherwise created by Clause 6 does not apply to employees. I am sure that this will be satisfactory to engineers and to other people who may perhaps run into conflict with the instructions of their employers when they think that those instructions may not be the safest possible way to proceed. I am also grateful to the noble Lord for his reply to me on the rest of the Amendment, which I should like to have time to study. I think that what he said in that respect will be a very useful clarification; and, with that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clauses 7, 8 and 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Establishment of the Commission and the Executive]:

LORD AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 8, line 10, leave out ("other organisations including").

The noble Lord said: In Clause 10 there is machinery for the appointment of members of the Commission other than the chairman; and, as the Bill stands at present the Secretary of State consults. as to three of the members of the Commission, with organisations representing employers; as to three others he consults with organisations representing trade unions; and then, for the remaining three, he consults with: such other organisations, including organisations representing local authorities, as he considers appropriate.

Regarding the membership of the Commission, in my opinion there is too little flexibility there. I think that it may very well be that the Secretary of State will regret finding himself bound to appoint six out of the nine members of the Commission in consultation with organisations representing employers and employees respectively, and it would have been better to leave him a rather freer hand here.

However, when we come on to the remaining three, it seemed to us wrong that the only organisations to be mentioned as being brought into consultation are those representing local authorities. In another place, the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Walker, said that there would be what he called a local authority nominee among these members and then a certain person representing the broad public interest. It seems to us that, in addition, there is a very important set of organisations which ought to be brought into consultation with regard to these three remaining members of the Commission, that is, those bodies which represent the professionals whose activities are concerned with any of the matters in the health and safety part of the Bill. We did not think that it was a good idea to specify what these professional organisations should be. In another place the representation of doctors was specifically mentioned, but I think that if one were to do that then one would bring in many other professions as well. I may say to your Lordships that the professional organisation which I have in mind, as might have been guessed from the previous Amendment, is the Council of Engineering Institutions, because members of the Council of Engineering Institutions will obviously be very closely concerned with many of the matters of safety which are dealt with in the Bill. It would obviously be appropriate for the Secretary of State to consult them—and, of course, the B.M.A. as well; I do not deny that they are equally important. But other professional organisations should be consulted by the Secretary of State before he appoints these three remaining members.

I do not think that, in saying this, we have fettered the Secretary of State unduly, because he still has to take into account the views of the local authorities, as was stated previously in the Bill; it will be "such organisations … as he considers appropriate" that he will consult in the hope that he would consider the Council of Engineering Institutions and the B.M.A., among others, appropriate organisations to consult, I have left the wording in very general terms. I beg to move.


The Amendment makes it clear that the Secretary of State is expected to consult appropriate professional organisations when he appoints "non-industry" members of the Commission. No doubt he would have done so anyway, but this Amendment makes the intention plain. The Government do not want to be specific in the legislation about the way in which these three "non-industry" seats should be filled. We think it is important that one of the members should have a local authority background, partly because local authorities will play a substantial part in enforcing the legislation but also and most importantly because local authorities may fairly be said to represent the "public" interest in health and safety in their localities. That is why local authority organisations get a special mention in this paragraph. The main aim should be to get members who can really make a worthwhile contribution to the Commission's work, rather than to have members who represent an interest group. Certainly professional organisations will have valuable ideas on likely persons who will be knowledgeable and interested in the Commission's work. For this reason, I am very happy to be able to accept the Amendment.


I beg to move Amendment No. 11.

Amendment moved—

Page 8, line 11, after ("authorities") insert ("and such other organisations, including professional bodies the activities of whose members are concerned with matters relating to any of the general purposes of this Part").—(Lord Avebury.)

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 11, 12, 13 and 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Health and safety regulations]:

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 13, line 27, at end insert— ("may specify the persons or classes of persons who, in the event of a contravention of a requirement or prohibition imposed by or under the regulations, are to be guilty of an offence, whether in addition to or to the exclusion of other persons or classes of persons;").

The noble Lord said: This is purely a drafting Amendment which was promised during Report stage in another place. I beg to move.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 16 and 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Authorities responsible for enforcement of the relevant statutory provisions]:

LORD MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 17: Page 16, line 38, after ("authorities") insert ("or the appropirate agricultural department").

The noble Lord said: With your Lordships' permission, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 17, 18, 19, 21 and 24. These Amendments are intended to restore to the appropriate Agriculture Ministers full and undivided responsibility all the way down the line for the supervision of the farm safety inspectorate. They are intended to restore to the Ministers full and undivided responsibility for the enforcement of the farm safety regulations. These Amendments will avoid the inevitable administrative confusion which will result from the Bill as it now stands. I outlined in the Second Reading debate the advantages of the present system and I shall not repeat my arguments. May we therefore turn to the Government's case and to the arguments which they have so far produced.

Mr. Harold Walker gave in another place, on June 18, what he described as a full explanation for altering the agricultural provisions in the Bill as it then stood. He said, first, that, following consultation with the N.U.A.W., the N.F.U. and the Minister of Agriculture, the Government had, … come to the conclusion that, while some special arrangements are indeed needed because of the scattered structure of the industry—and, in particular, arrangements which utilise the considerable expertise of the agricultural departments—these special arrangements need not, and should not, entail the exclusion of the commission from health and safety matters which are peculiar to agriculture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, (Commons) 18/6/74; col. 277.]

Here we have a very fair acknowledgment that the Ministry of Agriculture safety officers are the right people to administer and enforce the safety regulations. It is right in principle that the safety commission should not be excluded from matters peculiar to agriculture.

My amendments do not exclude the advantages which will accrue from the work of the safety commission in research and in its growing knowledge of the whole wide field of industry. The knowledge and expertise obtained by the commission can, and should, be made available to the Agriculture Departments. But where my noble friends and I part company with the Government is on the matter of responsibility. There will, no doubt, be agricultural representation on the safety commission. In addition, it is envisaged—and Mr. Harold Walker spoke about this in another place—that there will be an advisory committee on agriculture and there will surely be a discussion between Ministers on matters of principle. Thereafter, however, responsibility must remain with the appropriate Agriculture Ministers.

Secondly, Mr. Walker argued that the hazards in many agricultural activities are becoming more akin to those in industry generally. It could surely be argued that, as industrial techniques become more sophisticated, the nature of the risks tends to diverge. One wonders how many coal miners are gored by bulls, or how many clothing workers suffer from the misuse of agricultural pesticides. But of course there are hazards in common, such as dust and injury from machinery, and here the Agriculture Departments must benefit from research work carried out by the safety commission, the results of which can be imparted to them. Mr. Walker argued further that agriculture should not be treated as an industry apart, yet he admitted that it was a special case by its very nature, and he used that argument—and it was used again on Second Reading—to support the plan to use the Ministry of Agriculture inspectorate on an agency basis.

Of the arguments put forward during the Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House, I thought that the most telling was that of the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, who felt that the Commission would be more objective than the appropriate Agriculture Ministers. But a Minister has to meet the problem of reconciling the interests of the farming community with those of the nation as a whole, all the time. He can surely take the matter of farm safety in his stride, as he does now, and as he has to do in so many other spheres of his work.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, commended the provisions for farm safety both in logic and in their practical implications. The practical implications of the transfer of responsibility for the farm safety regulations would so weaken the authority of the Ministry of Agriculture as to destroy any theoretical improvement based upon a logical desire for administrative tidiness. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, referred to the back-up facilities and to the expertise of the commission. Surely no one is suggesting that these will not be available to the Agriculture Departments, whatever system is in use. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, produced one solitary farmer who had told her that he liked the Government's proposals. But these are the only arguments so far advanced for the Amendments brought forward at a very late stage by the Government. They are quite unconvincing to anyone who is familiar with the industry.

I fully recognise that, after the violent slashing of clauses and the large number of ancillary Amendments which have had to be made to knock out the Agriculture Ministers' full responsibility for farm safety, it is not easy to draft wholly satisfactory Amendments to reverse the situation. It may be that the Amendments to which I am speaking may not be entirely satisfactory. However, my main purpose is to ask the Government whether they have reconsidered the matter in principle, as I begged them to do on Second Reading. I beg to move.


My noble friend has spoken to these Amendments, and as he explained he hopes that the Government will have considered the position. They are modest Amendments, but they are very important ones. Agriculture has always been different from a safety point of view. Its structure is different from any other normal industry. Units are smaller, men work with their employees and the employees frequently also work on their own. These are totally different set-ups from a factory-type set-up, and they have always been given special treatment. The treatment that they have been given has meant that all the safety work and inspecting of safety should be done by the Ministry of Agriculture. That has always happened and it has worked very well. We are absolutely at one with the Government if they want to increase safety standards, and we want to see that happen in agriculture as well. But I believe that by what they have done to the Bill in another place they will not achieve this aim.

If we can look for one moment to what happens, there is a safety inspectorate within the Ministry. There are regional safety officers, there are divisional safety officers, and then there are field officers whose job it is to do a number of different things, one of which is the inspection of safety. They go around to the farms to see whether or not farmers are carrying out their obligations under the safety regulations. If the farmers are not doing this, the field officers then report to their divisional officers and there is a straight chain of command from a safety point of view This was always accepted. It was accepted in the Bill produced by the previous Government, and accepted in the Bill which the noble Lord's Government produced, up to and including the Committee stage. It was only at Report stage in another place that whole areas of the Bill relating to agriculture were removed. All the clauses from Nos. 28 to 31 were taken out; and Clause 30 had read: … it shall be the duty of the appropriate Agriculture Minister to make adequate arrangements for the enforcement of the relevant statutory provisions in their application to matters relating exclusively to the relevant agricultural purposes. We believe that was right, and so did the Government. But they have changed their minds and I believe that this will prove to be a mistake and detrimental to the Bill, to agriculture and to the employees in agriculture. What will happen now is that the safety commission, or the executive will be responsible for applying the safety measures, which they will do after consultation only with an advisory committee. They will then employ the field officers, as I understand it, on a part-time agency basis to go and do the work which they at present do, which is to inspect the safety on the farms.

To whom then are the field officers to be responsible—to the executive, or to the divisional safety officer of the Ministry of Agriculture? If there is to be a prosecution because a farmer does not carry out the work he has been told to do, who will bring the prosecution? In the old days it was brought by the divisional safety officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, but now under Clause 18(2) of this Bill the Secretary of State may make local authorities responsible for the enforcement of the relevant statutory provisions", which presumably means that the local authority—the local rural district council perhaps—will be responsible for bringing a prosecution against a farmer for not having complied with something with which the rural district council has had no dealings at all. I suggest that that is wholly wrong.

Again, one asks, to whom is the field officer to be responsible? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will explain this point, because I suggest that he should be responsible to his divisional officer. But it is difficult to do that, if he is employed on a part-time agency basis by the Executive. Or is it the intention of the Government to put the whole of the safety inspectorate, the divisional officers and the regional officers, under the aegis of the safety commission? When the Under-Secretary of State for Employment was asked that question in another place, he replied: The difficulty here is that we are on the eve of the creation of the commission. I think that the detailed arrangements will have to be worked out in consultation with the commission. It is too early for me to give a positive and clear-cut answer to the hon. Gentleman." [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons 18/6/74; cols. 301-2.] But it is essential that the industry and the Government should know what is to happen to the divisional and regional safety officers if they are to make the changes which the alteration to the Bill, which the Government have made in another place, will bring about.

My noble friend told us that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said on Second Reading that this Amendment to the Bill in another place "must commend itself both in logic and in its practical implications". I do not know about practical implications, but the practical applications are that it is most unsatisfactory. From the point of view of logic, I suggest that it is not logical to put safety standards for agriculture into the hands of a commission which does not understand agriculture, and which is acknowledged by the Government as not being fully conversant with agriculture, because they have to set up an agricultural advisory board to consult.

One wonders why this huge Amendment to the Bill was made. I think that the answer is twofold: the Under-Secretary of State said: In many instances this will be a matter of dovetailing the arrangements for agriculture with those for other industries, so as to arrive at 'across the board' regulations which will be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State." [Col. 278.] If I may say so, that is precisely what those engaged in agriculture are worried about; that there will be "across the board" regulations made with the view of industry in mind, but regulations which would be wholly or partially inapplicable or undesirable with regard to agriculture itself.

It was stated quite clearly by the Under-Secretary when he said: If I am urged—but perhaps that is too modest a word—or pressurised by those who are at risk, or by representatives, to take a certain course, perhaps I am listening to the right voices, and it was the NUAW and the TUC who stressed to us that proceeding as we are proposing to do would be beneficial rather than otherwise." [Col. 300.] I do not blame the TUC and I do not blame the NUAW for putting a point of view across; nor do I blame the Government for listening to it. That is, after all, the job of Governments and the job of the Trades Union Congress and the National Union of Agricultural Workers. The Government were quite right to listen to that view. But in accepting their suggestions they will end up with a situation that will not result in the interests of the members of the TUC, nor in the interests of the members of the NUAW, because I believe that the right way of increasing the safety standards in agriculture is through the Ministry of Agriculture who are the people who know about them. I believe, although that was the advice given by those two bodies, that that advice will work against the interests of those members to whom the advice was given.

I would make one last point to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. There are many instances in agriculture where accidents occur. They have decreased, but it is a different industry in that less than 50 per cent. of the accidents which occur are suffered by people who are employees. More than 50 per cent. of the accidents are sustained by people other than employees—by the farmers, the farmers' families, contractors and self-employed people. So agriculture is different from other industries where regulations of this kind will apply. I very much hope that the noble Lord will have had time to have a look at this matter, and will be able to see the strength of the argument.

5.50 p.m.


I should like very much to support what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. As a practical farmer I know the great difference there is between agricultural accidents and anything that may happen on a farm and those which occur in industry. It is a totally different setup. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said, the close association of people on farms, with the employers and employees working together the whole time, presents quite a different picture from people working on the shop floor or in industry.

As the noble Baroness quite rightly said at Second Reading—unfortunately I could not be present to take part—due to the fact that only two or two and a half per cent. of the population have anything to do with agriculture what happens there is regarded as of nothing like so much importance as what happens in industry. Any Government have to look first at the enormous industrial interests which cover perhaps 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. of the population as against this tiny percentage engaged in agriculture. I think it is very important that this aspect should be supervised by the Department of Agriculture. We as farmers look to the Department; whether it be in Scotland as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, knows, or whether it is in England, it is the Department of Agriculture that is the arbiter, so to speak, of all that we do. We get our instructions and information about safety from the Department; the inspectors are people who understand about the agricultural industry. All that will happen is that we shall be a sort of Cinderella in this great set-up of the Safety Commission. Either we shall suffer because the people who come to study what we are doing know nothing about it, or indeed they will not bother to come at all, in which case nothing will happen and we shall be left out.

I am strongly in favour of safety in agriculture and of all of us playing an active part in this extremely important Bill, but I am quite sure that to withdraw the authority of the Minister and, on an agency basis or in any other way, to substitute some other kind of authority in this matter would be a retrograde step. 1, as a farmer, feel that we would have a very raw deal from this Commission, which I strongly support and hope will be very successful. I beg the Minister to look at agriculture as a separate industry. It is quite different from any other industry and the number of people working in it is small compared with the great industrial areas. It would be a tremendous mistake if this industry is sacrificed to the general principle, which all civil servants love, of putting everything into one set-up, quite oblivious of the fact that they do not fit in together at all and should be treated quite differently. So I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will take this matter seriously and look at it again.

5.54 p.m.


First of all, I must say that, as we said we would do at Second Reading, we have certainly given very careful consideration to these points. From the debate then the importance which was attached by noble Lords on the other side to this change which took place in the Bill at so late a stage in another place was quite obvious. Before going further, may I say that obviously everyone accepts that the argricultural industry is totally different from any other industry in the country; there is no doubt about that. But if the agriculturalists are inclined to make a mistake in this connection it is to assume that because the agricultural industry is different from manufacturing or other non-agricultural industries, then everything other than agriculture is alien; but there are as great differences inside industry as between agricultural and manufacturing industries generally. The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, for instance, wondered how many miners were gored by a bull. But how many agricultural workers, how many car workers, have to work under the conditions in which the mining industry works? The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, spoke about what my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary said in another place about the across the board regulations applying to agriculture. But even before these changes were made this was still in the Bill. The across-the-board regulations were to apply to agriculture, so no change was made in that direction. For instance, no one would suggest when it came to electrical regulations that there would be something totally different in relation to the agricultural industry. I mention that, not because it is something special but because it immediately springs to mind.

Although, as I said, we were obliged to give very careful consideration to what had been said, it will perhaps not be a total surprise to noble Lords opposite when I say that I cannot advise the Committee to accept these Amendments. If I speak at some length in giving the reasons it is because we on this side attach equal importance to an adequate discussion of the matter. The first four Amendments are in direct conflict with the main reasons for the decisions taken by the Government after the most careful consideration and consultation about the way in which this Bill should be applied to agriculture. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that the Bill had been in a form similar to the views of the previous Administration right up to the end of the Committee stage, and that it was only then that these very substantial changes were made.

It is one of the peculiarities of democracy, and of Parliamentary procedure in particular, that Governments can be attacked in two ways. They can be attacked for not listening to representations that are made, that they insist that their legislation should go through in the form in which it was first presented, that they rigidly refuse to consider any Amendments. In many cases, Governments are quite properly attacked on that score. But Governments are also attacked if at a late stage, having listened to representations, they then make a change. The criticism is that having listened to the representations they make a change, particularly if it is a substantial one, at a late stage. Even at this much later stage we are now being asked to consider another change, the effect of which would be to revert to the original position. I am quite certain that noble Lords opposite would not consider it a reasonable argument if I were to say that it is too late at this late stage of the Bill to give consideration to these matters. We have not taken that line, and I think the Government were perfectly reasonable. Having considered all the points which were made they decided, at that late stage in another place, to make these changes. The Bill provides for authorities—


Could I say to the noble Lord that I congratulate the Government on having kept such an open mind and having been able to change it. It was because they were so receptive to argument that we rather hoped they might still be receptive.


It is one thing to have an open mind, but quite another to have one which, like a yo-yo, goes back and forth. The Bill provides for authorities, the Executive in the majority of cases, to be responsible for enforcement. It also makes provision for the performance of the enforcement duties on an agency basis on behalf of the Commission and its Executive which retains the responsibility. There is an important difference between the two.

The first four Amendments to Clause 18 would enable the Secretary of State to make the Agricultural Departments responsible for enforcement of this legislation in prescribed circumstances. The argument runs like this: if we can do this in the case of local authorities why can we not do so in the case of the Agriculture Departments?

But the analogy is a false one, and moreover the Amendments which have been tabled would not preserve, in respect of enforcement by Agricultural Departments, the essential safeguards which are provided in the Bill in respect of enforcement by local authorities.

First, the Bill provides power to make local authorities responsible for enforcement in their own right (but subject to the Commission's guidance) because local authorities are autonomous elected bodies in their own right and do not act on behalf of Central Government. But the Agriculture Departments—just like other Government Departments—are not autonomous elected bodies: they are simply one part of the Central Government organisation. We have all heard of the unity of government, even though it is sometimes a little difficult to find in the corridors of Whitehall. Why should one Whitehall Department be treated differently from all others in this respect?

Secondly, it is intended that local authorities, who have always had extensive enforcement duties under this type of legislation, will be made responsible for enforcement in what may be broadly described as "non-industrial" premises—offices, shops libraries and so on—where I think it is fair to say that the risks to health and safety are fairly low. My brief says "health and safety", but I am not absolutely certain that in all cases one can include "health"—certainly there are some pretty rotten offices about, and there are even some in this building. We think it is common sense for public health inspectors to perform this enforcement work in these lower risk premises along with their other work (provided there are adequate arrangements for liaison and co-operation with the Executive and that local authorities should be responsible for the way in which they perform this work under the Commission's guidance.

But agriculture is not a low-risk industry. Increasingly, farmers are using large plant, which is mechanically and electronically highly complex. They are using dangerous substances in increasing quantities. The risks to health and safety in agriculture are becoming increasingly akin to those in other industries. There is absolutely no justification, in health and safety terms, for saying that anyone other than the Health and Safety Commission and its Executive, which we are creating to deal with such risks, should have the responsibility for controlling these risks in agriculture.

Thirdly, although the Agriculture Departments would, of course, have to act under the Commission's guidance, because of what is provided in subsection (5) of this clause, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that in the long run there is no default power which would bite on them if they failed to comply with its guidance—which is the case in connection with local authorities. Clause 41 provides such a default power in the case of local authorities, but failure to perform their functions adequately in the case of an Agriculture Department in not complying with the guidance does not necessarily bring about any default procedures. In other words, the Amendments would enable regulations to be made which would make the Agriculture Departments autonomously responsible for enforcement in agriculture, subject to the Commission's guidance and independent of the Executive. The effect of this is essentially to recreate in regulations the special provisions for agriculture which were deleted at that stage in another place.

Noble Lords who have spoken to these Amendments have criticised that decision to delete the special provisions for agriculture. They have asked: why have the Government changed their minds? They have also asked: how will the changes lead to improvements in health and safety on farms? These are fair questions, which I must try to answer. First, the changes were made in response to criticisms from all sides in another place—and I would emphasise that it was not just from the Government side that these requests were made—and also from many of the outside organisations which have commented on the Bill and on the consultative proposals which preceded it. These critics recognised the difficulty created by the organisation of the agricultural industry but could not see the logic of the solution put forward in the Bill originally, which excluded the Commission and its Executive from having responsibility for agricultural matters, in relation to the organisational problems.

From the outset it has been recognised (by the last Government as well as by the present one) that there were no arguments on health and safety grounds for treating agriculture differently and that the organisational arguments were finely balanced. This Government have recognised the validity of the criticisms made of the previous special provisions for agriculture and have decided upon a different solution for dealing with the organisational problem, which is much more closely tailored to the problem.

I should like to summarise, for the benefit of noble Lords who are fresh to this question, the solution which has been decided upon. This is that the Commission should be responsible for safety and health in agriculture, as in every other industry. However, in order to ensure that there are adequate staff available for the enforcement work and that people with knowledge of the agricultural industry are used on this work, the Commission and the Agricultural Departments will make an agency agreement for such work to be performed by the Agriculture Departments' inspectors on behalf of the Commission and Executive, and to their specifications. We sincerely believe that this gives agriculture the best of both worlds; that is to say, it will benefit from the expertise of the Executive on health and safety matters and the expertise of the Agriculture Departments on the industry generally. It ensures that there will be enough inspectors to get round the many scattered farms and that they will be people who are familiar to, and have the confidence of, the farmers.

I should add that we have been through this Bill carefully to make quite sure that the Agriculture Departments and their inspectors—this is part of the consideration to which I have referred and which I undertook to do at Second Reading—can use all the powers given to enforcing authorities in the Bill, in performing enforcement functions on an agency basis. My noble friend Lady Birk will be moving an Amendment shortly which will make it quite clear that agents of the Commission or Executive can carry out whatever functions it is agreed in the agency agreements that they should carry out, such as appointing their own inspectors, initiating proceedings and so on.

This brings me to the question of how these arrangements will benefit health and safety in agriculture. The answer to this lies in the whole reasoning for the Bill itself, and I must ask noble Lords to look beyond their own industry to the wider context of health and safety at work. This Bill has been widely welcomed, in this House and elsewhere, as the precursor of, and instrument for, achieving major advances in health and safety at work. The new organisation which it will establish has been widely welcomed as providing a new focus for accident prevention—an organisation devoted solely to health and safety, which will bring together the many small units in various Government Departments dealing with these matters, and will ensure that health and safety are given a status of their own and not subordinated to other industry interests. We have all recognised the wisdom of the Robens Committee's arguments for this. What we now propose for agriculture also follows in principle the recommendations of that Committee, which we now recognise as right.

As I see it the pressure which is on the Government now is to get this Bill on to the Statute Book as quickly as possible because, particularly after Flixborough, there is a very general desire that this Commission should be brought into operation at the earliest opportunity. I know that noble Lords who have spoken to these Amendments do not dissent from this in any way: they are as anxious as anybody else to see this happen. If, therefore, this solution is right for industry as a whole, why is it not right for agriculture? It is agreed that to give a body solely devoted to health and safety the task of improving safety performance is the right solution in every other case: engineering, construction, mining, heavy chemicals, public service industries, commerce—the lot. Why not agriculture?

My answer to the noble Lords is that the Bill will achieve improvements to health and safety in agriculture in the same way as in other industries, and the arguments for not having special arrangements are precisely the same as the arguments for creating the new organisation. The problems of health and safety in agriculture must be looked at in the wider context; not to do so is to fall into the trap of Departmental partial interest which Robens criticised so rightly and the defence of which has kept the Bill from the Statute Book for two years.

Finally, I turn to the proposed Amendment to Clause 19. I appreciate the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, that the organisation should be workable, that inspectors should know to whom they are reporting, and from whom they will receive their instructions. However, this really does not seem to me to be a matter for legislation. It is a matter for administration. This Amendment as drafted helps no one; "agriculture" is undefined; and "responsible to" is one of those loose English phrases with a multiplicity of meanings—a nightmare to any legislator.

I speak as one who until Monday was an Agricultural Minister in Scotland. With the appointment of the last Under-Secretary, I was able to shed direct responsibility for that Department, although I continue to have a supervisory interest in it. Despite what noble Lords and the noble Baroness have said about the tragedy of taking responsibility away from the Agricultural Ministers, I would not wish them to think that because of this change there will be any change in the effect on the ground. When I was Agricultural Minister in Scotland for three and a half years from 1964, and for three and a half months or so in 1974, I did not go around farms ensuring farm safety. The inspectors of my Department did this. These inspectors will be doing exactly the same job as they did before, but with all the back-up which comes from the new and wider health and safety arrangements and from the Commission.

Obviously the agency agreement, when it is made, will include in that methods by which prosecutions are to be initiated. It is not intended that local authorities should be given any enforcement responsibilities on the farm, any more than they have them at present. To a certain extent the fears expressed that farmers would have to deal with a completely new set of people or, alternatively, that those with whom they deal at the present time would have only a limited part of their present function to carry out, are unjustified. There is ample justification for the change which was made. When the arrangements are made between the Commission and the Agricultural Departments noble Lords who have spoken to these Amendments will be completely satisfied about the way in which it is to work.

As I said earlier, the effect of the Bill as it stands is to give the agricultural industry the best of both worlds: the back-up on health and safety plus the experience of their existing machinery. The fact that Mr. Peart is not going around personally in England, and I am not going around personally in Scotland, will not make any difference whatsoever because we did not do so before. In those circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, will not press the Amendment and I invite him now to withdraw it.

6.14 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said he thought that all those who had spoken in this debate would be completely satisfied when the system was in operation. I was not surprised when he did not accept the Amendments; I was disappointed, but it did not come as a huge shock because the Government excised a substantial part of the Bill in another place. These Amendments were merely an attempt to try to put back in some small measure that which they had excised. If the noble Lord says that the drafting is inadequate and that it will not do, then that does not surprise me because it is difficult to put back in a few words the four or five clauses that were taken out.

I enjoyed the noble Lord's speech until he came down to the nub of his remarks. The sad part was that he should have given up his agricultural responsibilities on Monday, because I felt he came with the Department of Employment brief and not an Agricultural brief, and with that there might have been a different result, I cannot pretend I am the slightest bit satisfied with what the noble Lord has said. Of course, we are all agreed that the safety standards should be better; of course we are agreed chat they should be improved. However, it is written in the Bill that all this will be done by the Safety Commission or Executive which were set up with wholly different purposes in mind. The noble Lord referred to engineering and mining—and, I think, to the housing industry. All these are fundamentally industrial efforts where there are groups of employees working together.


I am glad the noble Lord repeated what I said. I did not refer to housing I referred to the construction industry. If there is anything which is comparable with agriculture it is the construction industry, because it is organised in a multiplicity of units from the very large concerns, employing thousands of people, to the many building firms operating on small sites employing a handful of people, in many cases no more than on a farm. The fact that an industry is fragmented into many small units is no reason for excluding it.


That is perfectly true, but agriculture is wholly different. People are brought up on farms. Their home is their farm. Their children go out of their homes and play on the farm and can get into trouble with such things as slurry pits and grain pits, and they are surrounded by animals which can be dangerous. So often people from towns come out and enjoy their recreation in agriculture. If people go rambling across fields and get hit by a machine, or tossed or gored by a bull, that goes down as an agricultural accident. That is registered in the statistics, but you do not go rambling through a ball-bearing factory or through a housing estate or down a coal mine.


That is what you think!


Some people do, but not for pleasure, mostly for curiosity or other less deserving motives. With the greatest respect, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is wrong. I do not believe it will be easier for agriculture to maintain a safety standard. He did not answer the specific questions I asked, and maybe he would like to consider this. Although the field officers will act on an agency basis for the Commission, to whom are they responsible? Is it the Commission, for whom they are partially employed or are they responsible in this instance to their senior safety officer, the divisional safety officer? Are the divisional safety officer, and the regional safety officer above him to be transferred to the Safety Commission, or are they to remain in the Ministry of Agriculture? There is this diversity of responsibility and I believe that is wrong.

My noble friend may not wish to press this Amendment, but we are far from satisfied with it and may well return to this on the Report stage. This is not because we want to be at loggerheads with the noble Lord, because what we are trying to do is the same, we want to get the thing to work; but we do not believe that this is the best way to get it to work from the point of view of agriculure.

I do not blame the noble Lord or his honourable friend for changing his mind—it is sometimes a good thing to do. But, earlier, in the Committee stage in the other place his honourable friend said: That is why I think that we have rightly provided in the Bill instead for the Minister of Agriculture to take responsibility for health and safety on farms, so that he can be responsible for the enforcement of health and safety requirements by his field officers and co-ordinate that aspect of their work with their other duties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Standing Committee A; 7th May 1974, c. 143.] I believe his honourable friend was right when he said that and it would have been better if he had not changed his mind. I do not blame him for changing his mind, but I think it was wrong in this instance. I hope the noble" Lord will look seriously again at the part that was excised, because we may well return to this matter.


I much appreciate the great length at which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has replied to these Amendments and the great trouble he has taken to explain the reasons for the Government's views. In reply to the noble Lord, no one wants to ask unreasonably for special legislation for one particular industry or for one Whitehall Department, but the penalty for not doing it for agriculture is the removal of a proper chain of responsibility for inspection and enforcement. That must create confusion, and so we feel that agriculture must be treated as a special case. Three times the noble Lord has said that agriculture under the Bill as it stands is going to get the best of all possible worlds. He said it once at Second Reading—the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said it, too—and he said it twice to-day. I think it is the bellman in The Hunting of the Snark who said: "I say it once. I say it twice. What I say three times is true.' But I am quite unconvinced that what the noble Lord has said is true and quite unconvinced by the arguments he has set out in great detail and with great care.

I find it disappointing that the Government are still unwilling to see the administrative complications that are bound to result from this method of dealing with farm safety. If I were to divide the Committee at this stage, I realise it could result in legislation whose drafting fell short of the ideal. So I shall not do so, in the hope that next time the Government really will reconsider the matter and bring in Amendments at the Report stage that will restore to the appropriate Agriculture Ministers, first, the duty of making farm safety regulations and, secondly, the unshared duty of supervision over the inspectorate; and also to make the appropriate Agriculture Ministers the enforcing authority. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.


I certainly would not wish the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, to feel there is any great hope that the Government will introduce other Amendments at Report stage. What I will undertake, if there should be any further Amendment, which I would hope at that stage would be merely of a probing nature, is to provide the answers about the chain of command, the chain of enforcement, which seems to be the point on which noble Lords opposite are still sticking. They are not objecting to the Commission's having its functions; it is the operation below that level which seems still to be worrying noble Lords, I am tempted to say, unduly. So I will certainly have myself in the position at the next stage to be able to give chapter and verse, comma an semi-colon on how this is going to work. Possibly at that stage noble Lords will be persuaded by what I shall say—I did not in fact expect them to be persuaded by what I said to-day. I was careful not to say that I hoped I had convinced them. What I said was that I was satisfied that when the procedure was in operation they would find it was working well, that it was working in the way in which they hoped it would work, and that their fears would prove unjustified. But it will obviously be some time after Report stage before that can be demonstrated.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.42 p.m.

BARONESS BIRK moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 18, line 4, at end insert ("but where by virtue of paragraph (a) of section 13(1) the performance of any function of the Committee or the Executive is delegated to a government department or person, references to the Commission or the Executive (or to an enforcing authority where that authority is the Executive) in any provision of this Part which relates to that function shall, so far as may be necessary to give effect to any agreement under that paragraph, be construed as references to that department or person; and accordingly any reference to the field of responsibility of an enforcing authority shall be construed as a reference to the field over which that department or person for the time being performs such a function.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 20, which is a clarificatory drafing Amendment. It ensures that, where any function of the Executive under the Bill is delegated under an agency arrangement, the agent or any inspectors whom it has appointed under delegated authority have the necessary-powers to perform the functions delegated to them—even though the Bill itself states that the functions are to be exercisable by "enforcing authorities".

This I should have thought should relieve some of the anxieties which have just now been expressed on the agricultural provisions. For example, if an agency agreement is made under Clause 13(1)(a), which provides that the Agriculture Departments may perform, on the Executive's behalf, the function of appointing certain persons to be inspectors under Clause 19(1), there might be some doubt arising from the present drafting of the Bill as to whether an inspector thus appointed could in fact conduct a prosecution under Clause 35. The doubt might arise because he was appointed by an agent of the enforcing authority, and not by the enforcing authority itself.

However, this Amendment has the effect of translating the phrase "enforcing authority" and the "field of responsibility of an enforcing authority" so as to mean, respectively, "agent" and "the functions which have been delegated to an agent" wherever this is necessary for the carrying out of delegated functions under an agency agreement made by the Commission. I beg to move.

Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 19 [Appointment of inspectors]:

6.29 p.m.

LORD WYNNE-JONES moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 18, line 5, after ("authority") insert (", after consultation with the appropriate Minister,").

The noble Lord said: This particular clause is one which gives the enforcing authority the right to appoint inspectors, as it says, (under whatever title it may from time to time determine)".

The clause does not require that the enforcing authority should consult any Ministry. This may sound an argument similar to the one which has been put forward in connection with recent Amendments about the agricultural industry. The purpose of my Amendment is not to remove any part of the Inspectorate from the general control of the Commission and the Executive but rather to ensure that, where we have at the present time specialised Inspectorates, these specialised Inspectorates should net disappear under the Bill. If one takes as an example one of the best known of the Inspectorates, the Mines Inspectorate, under the Bill the Mines Inspectorate will be absorbed into the general Inspectorate. There is no obligation upon the enforcing authority, which will be the Executive, to appoint anybody with mining qualifications to do the work because they will not be appointing a Mines Inspectorate; they will be appointing a general Inspectorate.

It is perfectly true that some assurances were given in another place upon this matter. The Secretary of State, Mr. Michael Foot, made a Statement about it. He said that there had been a good deal of anxiety, and he is right. There is considerable anxiety both within the ranks of the National Union of Mine-workers and within the Inspectorate about this matter. Then he went on to say, the identity of the Inspectorate will be sustained and the miners will have the knowledge also that any changes will have to be proposed through the Department of Employment, probably in consultation with Ministers of the Department of Energy".

I find that statement no kind of guarantee, because what the Secretary of State has said is that appointments will have to be made with his authority.

I cannot find any statement in the Bill which says that the appointment of an inspector will have to be approved by the Secretary of State. On the contrary, it is something which will have to be approved by the Executive. It is true that the number of inspectors and the salaries of inspectors will have to be approved by the Secretary of State. As I read it, the appointment of a particular inspector is left entirely in the hands of the Executive, yet the Secretary of State has stated in another place that any changes will have to be proposed through the Department of Employment. Then he went on to make the remark, which I find quite extraordinary, probably in consultation with Ministers in the Department of Energy".

If one were to say that a guarantee is to be given that a Mines Inspectorate is to be maintained and, having given that guarantee, one then said, "Of course, it will be done probably by consulting the mining industry", I am unable to believe that this could be looked upon as a guarantee in any sense.

It is a serious matter that we are setting up in this Bill a unified Inspectorate, but that we are destroying, within that unified Inspectorate, any divisions which are responsible for particular industries. An industry like the mining industry has totally different requirements and conditions. Anybody who has ever been down a mine or has read about a mine knows perfectly well that those conditions are so different from the conditions in other industries that to ask a man who is an inspector in a motor car factory to inspect the mines surely is asking for trouble.

It seems to me that this matter arises in many industries. The chemical industry is one; the agriculture industry, which has been discussed for some time now, is another. Whereas I do not agree with the idea that we should separate the Inspectorates and not have the unified Inspectorate, I think that if the job is to be done properly it is absolutely vital that the Inspectorates should be maintained within the unified Inspectorate. I have quoted what was said by the Secretary of State for Employment in another place; but only yesterday in another place Mr. Denis Howell was replying to Mr. John Ellis, who in a Supplementary Question, had asked: It is not true that the Alkali Inspectorate will be wound up under the Health and Safety at Work Bill? and Mr. Howell replied: It is not true that the Alkali Inspectorate is to be wound up. May of its functions will now be transferred to another department".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons 3/7/74.]

I do not know what that statement means, but it seems to me that there is confusion in the attitude towards this new Inspectorate. One Minister says that within this unified Inspectorate, the Alkali Inspectorate will be retained and another Minister says that the Mines Inspectorate will be retained, yet there is nothing in the Bill which makes it possible for them to be retained.

If the Government are serious about this—and they must be serious about it because they take the matter very much to heart—it is right that my proposal should be written into the Bill. It seems to me that the minimum required, although it may not be enough, is to put into the Bill in Clause 19, at page 18, line 5, "insert after the word 'authority' 'after consultation with the appropriate Minister'". This would guarantee that in making appointments the Executive had to take into account the advice from the different Ministries concerned with the various industries. I beg to move.

6.38 p.m.


Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, may I ask whether it would be convenient to the Committee if my Amendment, which is concerned with much the same point, were taken for discussion with it? As I understand the noble Lord, the matter which causes concern is the maintenance of standards in the Inspectorate and the machinery for ensuring that, where professionally qualified Inspectors are necessary, as obviously they are in the case of mines, the change over of appointments from the existing authorities to the Executive or to any other enforcing authority within the definition contained in the Bill does not result in a lowering of standards. That is precisely the purpose of my Amendment No. 23 when one comes to the limited field of questions of an engineering nature which may arise under the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, mentioned in particular chemical engineering plants. I agree with him absolutely that a properly qualified, professional chemical engineer is required to act as an inspector in cases where the examination of a complex process plant might be involved, and also the assessment of a process involving high temperatures and pressures and exotic material which require professional knowledge to be able to say whether the plant is safe within the terms of the Bill. I think it is extremely important that we should pin this matter down. Although it has been discussed to some extent and the wording improved, it is still in rather general terms. The words "suitable qualifications" in subsection (1) were, I understand, inserted in another place in response to a discussion similar to the one which we are having now. Therefore it shows that honourable Members were seized of the point that the Bill is extremely vague about the qualifications of inspectors.

Where you have organisations like the Mines Inspectorate, which are staffed largely by qualified people at the moment, there is a genuine fear that as a result of this Bill there might be a lowering of standards. I am absolutely certain that such is not the intention of the Government, and indeed the very fact that we have this Bill before us shows that the purpose is to increase standards and to have more qualified people to act as inspectors. But if we could have some more definite form of wording to indicate that such is the intention it would go a long way to reassure those who are already concerned in the various inspectorates and the workers who will benefit from their activities in the future.


The Amendment which has been moved and also Amendment No. 23, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has spoken, have certain points in common but there are some differences and I will deal with some of the points which have been raised by my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones. In the first place, while I appreciate that the motivation behind both Amendments is to improve the Bill, if possible, and also to stress the need to keep up the standards and to define as keenly as possible what is required, nevertheless it seems to me to write into the Bill, apart from the other more technical reasons, something which will not be feasible and does not seem to add to a piece of legislation. For instance, the idea in this Amendment of a multidimensional picture of a Secretary of State conducting a selection panel for a thousand or more inspectors, which is the number we hope to reach in time, and a rather gouache picture of the horrified reaction of local authorities to the thought that their freedom of action in, for example, appointing public health inspectors to do particular work, should be reduced in this way, makes it rather unrealistic.

I know that my noble friend is particularly concerned (and he has stressed that concern both during the Second Reading debate and to-day) to ensure that mines inspectors continue to have the high qualifications held by the present mines inspectors and that this should not be diluted or altered in any way which would be to the detriment of the whole mining industry. While I am dealing with this matter, I should like to clear up a point about which there was a little confusion on Second Reading; namely, the question of access to Ministers. There has never been any legal right of access, which is why this Bill does not take away any rights, but there has been a customary right of access to the Ministers and the Ministers have asked for advice from the Inspectorate. None of this is altered in any way under this Bill. I hope I have reassured my noble friend on that point. I do not think this Amendment would be a practical way of achieving the result that he wants.

In the terms of placing burdens on the Secretary of State alone—or the Minister—the Amendment would be unacceptable because on the face of it quite apart from the practical difficulties which I have mentioned, it goes much further than the present legislation. Under present legislation the Secretary of State or Minister is given power to appoint inspectors to carry out each Act, but needless to say he does not actually appoint the people himself.

In my view the Amendment would also be unacceptable in principle. First, it would not be right to require local authorities, who in so many respects act autonomously, even if very often they act under guidance, to consult with the Secretary of State before appointing staff or giving staff certain functions. Secondly, I do not think it would be right for the Executive to do so either. One of the basic principles embodied in this legislation is that there must be a degree of delegation of the existing direct responsibilities of various Ministers for safety and health matters from those Ministers to the new Commission and its Executive, and I think that we must keep in mind that we are setting up a completely new organisation and if all the time it is to be so restricted and one does not have confidence in it, it will be difficult for it to have the powers and flexibility in which to work to improve conditions, which is certainly the general consensus of us all. Therefore, I do not think that with one hand we should create an organisation with this in view and with the other diminish its powers in such key respects as appointment of staff. Furthermore, if this is done, why should it only be with this group of public servants about whose appointment Ministers must be consulted? Why not open the door to all public servants? The thing becomes quite untenable.

The Bill already gives Ministers adequate powers of control over the new organisation, and in particular they will be able to exercise control over the numbers and qualifications of those who will be enforcing the legislation. As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, Clause 19(1) specifically states that those appointed as inspectors should be "persons having suitable qualifications". This is a mater on which, first, the Commission will be able to give guidance to local authorities (or any other enforcing authority) which those authorities will be under a duty to comply with. Secondly, the Commission will be able to give directions to the Executive about the kind of staff it appoints. And of course the Secretary of State is able, where he judges it to be necessary, to give directions to the Commission about the kind of qualifications and experience he expects inspectors to have. I really do not think my noble friend need have fears that there is any question of somebody who is used to—I think his example was dealing with only a motor car, being sent down the mines by a mining inspector. My right honourable friend has written to the mining union and given absolute assurances that mines inspectors will continue to be fully qualified and that there is no question of using other non-inspectors down the mines. Furthermore, inspectors such as those in the Mines and the Alkali Inspectorates will retain their identities and I think my noble friend will be glad to hear that if it becomes necessary the Secretary of State will issue a directive to that effect under Clause 12(b).

Let me stress again what has been repeated so often in another place, that the principal aim of this Bill is to ensure greater expertise in dealing with health and safety problems. This is why an organisation solely concerned with these problems is being created and if one is going to put all sorts of brakes on it, it will be difficult for it to do its work and for the new Commission and Executive to be able to have the advantage of the expertise of all the various groups of people who will be brought in, and the numbers involved in the Inspectorates in the future will be considerably greater.

I think this should cover some of the points which have been raised and should deal with some of the anxieties which have arisen. It will be a highly expert body entrusted with heavy responsibilities and although it is quite clear to me and to the members of the Committee why this Amendment was tabled, and what is worrying my noble friend, I do not think it will advance what he wants to see. However, I hope he feels that he has now drawn out even more assurances and statements on the way the future should develop under this Bill and that he will feel more satisfied about it.

If I may at the same time deal with the next Amendment, which is to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, a great deal of what I have said in reply to my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones is also relevant to Amendment No. 23. The noble Lord raised a specific point on engineering, and here I do not think it is realistic to make a distinction between the kinds of engineering matters with which an inspector might be dealing, because in the way it is framed at the moment there is no distinction made, and the term "engineer" is a very wide one. The case of the non-engineers, if I may use that term, such as public health inspectors, who are really concerned with certain functions which can probably be described as engineering—for instance, ensuring that a bacon slicer in the local shop is guarded—can be on the border-line of public health, yet also concerned with engineering.

It is also unrealistic to go beyond the requirements of present legislation, and to say that the qualifications of inspectors should be spelled out in a Statute. Once we start on that path, it becomes difficult. Where does one stop? Since technology is advancing all the time, and since the type of qualifications which one requires will be changing—and if they are not there is something wrong with the way the system is progressing—this could mean that the qualifications would be slowed down if one had this rather rigid piece of legislation in the Bill. The existing Inspectorates which will be joining the Executive have always attached importance to expertise and proper qualifications.

There is absolutely no reason for anyone to think this might change for the worst under the new organisation. On the contrary, I should have thought that with suitable qualifications—if this is interpreted in the manner in which it should be—and if the various advisory committees are set up under the Commission, there will be regulations made and a code of practice will lay down guidelines. All these things should ensure that not only do we maintain as high a standard as we have in many areas, but also that it is raised in many of the areas which could probably benefit from having it raised.

With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I should have thought that the Amendment was unnecessary, because the Bill makes it clear that the inspectors to be appointed are to have suitable qualifications. I should have thought this meant that this would apply quite as strongly to people needing engineering qualifications as to those who are members of the Mining Inspectorate, the Alkali Inspectorate, or any other group of inspectors. The Commission can and will lay down clear guidelines as to what are to be regarded as suitable qualifications in relation to each specialisation. These guidelines will have to be followed by the Executive and other enforcing authorities. I have explained that the Secretary of State can, if need be, give directions to the Commission as to what the guidelines should be, and that is much more flexible than trying to establish a regulation as to who should have what qualifications and experience.

Finally, I would say that in a Bill of this sort, which has wide enabling powers, it is surely the duty of everyone concerned, whether legislators, members of professional organisations, or even individuals, to act as watchdogs in these matters, to see not only that the spirit and the word of the legislation but also its intention is carried out, and not to try to restrict it by some of these Amendments which are being put forward, which if they are accepted—and I am afraid I cannot accept them—would probably result in an end product which noble Lords themselves would find very displeasing. I hope that the Amendments will not be pressed. I think the points made by both noble Lords have been invaluable. The fact that these points have been made and are now on the record should be of great assistance when the new Commission and Executive are set up.

6.55 p.m.


I must thank my noble friend for giving what I think were very positive assurances, which are much clearer and much more definite than any assurances given so far—at least, I hope so. The noble Baroness asked me after the Second Reading what I thought of the part of the brief that had been given to her, and I said that it was plain crackers.


I think it is very unfair of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, to indulge in what I would call, in quotes, "pillow talk" or "bar talk".


Some of her brief to-day was a little daft. There were remarks made which had been written in for her to the effect that my Amendment suggested that the Secretary of State would solemnly sit in, himself, at the appointment of 1,000 inspectors. The relevant words were, "after consultation with the appropriate Minister". They did not refer to the Secretary of State. They referred to a Minister, such as the Minister for Energy, the Minister for the Department of Trade and Industry and so on. The whole point was to ensure that the Ministries concerned with the different industries were able to advise the Executive as to what sort of person they wanted to see appointed. That was all. It merely said, "after consultation". I find it surprising when one's words are turned round and used in an utterly meaningless way, in a brief which was clearly supplied more to make a joke than to provide an effective argument. Naturally, I accept the assurances of my noble friend. I am gratified by them. I still do not see why the wording of my Amendment is not acceptable but, under the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw it.


I thank my noble friend. May I just give one word of explanation? The words as he explains them are obviously perfectly all right. I am sorry if he took amiss what he thought was a slightly frivolous approach, but it was not meant to be. I was trying to point out that what one says and what one means is one thing, but when words are written into a Statute they have to be interpreted in a statutory manner. This is the difficulty. If the words say "after consultation" with the Minister—and I take his point that he did not mean to restrict it solely to the Secretary of State—then they mean that the appointment of every inspector should be brought about only after consultation with the Minister, and even that—if one divided those appointments between the number of Ministers involved—would be practically impossible. The noble Lord wants to bring about a general consultation about the sort of people who are required and about the standards that are needed. This is covered in the Bill in all sorts of other ways, and will be covered even more practically when the Commission and the Executive are set up. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.58 p.m.

LORD AVEBURY moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 18, line 21 at end insert— (2A) A person shall not be qualified to be appointed, or to be, an inspector under this section with powers concerning any engineering matters unless he is an engineer having such qualifications as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord said: I just want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for the careful reply she gave to my Amendment, which I am sure will be extremely useful by reason of the fact that it is on the record and people can refer to it, and they will feel satisfaction that the regulation-making powers and the directions that the Secretary of State can give to the commission under Clause 12(b) will be so exercised as to ensure that professional standards are maintained.

In my Amendment I was not suggesting that professional engineers were required to say whether or not bacon slicers should have guards. I was particularly interested in the operation of large plants where the services of professional engineers would be required as inspectors. I am satisfied from what the noble Baroness has said that people with these qualifications would be appointed. In those circumstances. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20—[Powers of inspectors.]

7.0 p.m.

THE EARL OF COURTOWN moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 21, line 13, after ("legal") insert ("or medical")

The noble Earl said: This clause enables inspectors to require the" production of, inspect, and take copies of "books or documents which he wants to see in connection with his inquiries. The object of this Amendment is to provide protection to the medical records of individual workers kept by a company or a group medical service connected with the establishment being inspected. Some reference to the importance of the confidentiality of these records was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, on Second Reading.

It is my experience that the highest standards of medical ethics are exercised by all those in the medical departments of which I know. The individual medical records are not revealed to anyone outside the medical department without the consent of the individual concerned. By this Amendment it is intended that if an inspector wishes to see medical records, the permission of the individual covered by the records has first to be obtained. This is, I think normal medical practice. It seemed to me that this subsection gave protection to "legal professional privilege". If the Amendment is imperfect but the Government accept the general principle of what I am suggesting, perhaps they will suggest a way of achieving my object more efficiently. I beg to move.


I sympathise very greatly with the intentions of this Amendment, and I noted at the time the points on confidentiality made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith. I think that was made on a slightly different point; it was really on the case of nurses or people concerned with a certain worker. I think it was an educational point, to make sure that they understood that in their situation confidentiality was absolutely essential. This Amendment is on a rather different point, because it is a legal matter.

It is true that personal records and other information, which are strictly confidential between doctor and patient, should not be disclosed at the behest of an inspector under the powers of this clause. In fact, I understand that while the Bill was being drafted attempts were made to build in some kind of safeguard for medical documents on the same basis as legal documents. But it appears—and I am sorry to have to say this, but I have gone into the matter in detail, because I raised some similar questions on it—that there is no medical equivalent of "legal professional privilege" which is recognised by the legal profession. Medical ethics cannot be enshrined in law in that way, and it certainly could not be done in this Bill. Therefore, I am afraid that the Amendment cannot be accepted, because legally it would not mean anything.

However, what I can do is give the noble Earl the firmest assurance that the commission will be specifically asked to ensure that when guidance is given to enforcing authorities as to how these powers of inspection are to be used, inspectors will be instructed to respect the normal medical ethics and not to try to obtain medical information which is confidential as between a doctor and an individual. This is, in fact, something which is going on all the time now, because inspectors have access to the information when necessary, and this question of confidentiality works very well at the moment. Although it is a very tricky point, the inspectors who are operating in the field are very well aware of it.

For my own part, although I quite understand the noble Earl's anxieties about this point and the reason he raised it, I should have thought that in the future the opportunity for underlining and emphasising this very important point would be even greater because there will be the advisory committees to the commission. There will be, as I said on Second Reading, the whole question of improving the educational intake in this field and the sense of responsibility. I will also go so far as to interpret the phrase "suitable qualifications" as meaning not only specific professional or technical qualifications, but—and this is why, as I understand it, the phrase is a fairly wide one—the sort of person who has both the personality and the type of character to understand such things as this, which are part of the human content of working out this piece of legislation. This should in itself give some reassurance. I hope the noble Earl will accept what I have said, and again accept from me the assurance that it is a great help and service that this point has been raised, and that it will certainly be taken into account. I would ask him not to press the Amendment, because on purely legal grounds it would be quite impossible to accept it.


I felt that there were likely to be legal difficulties about this matter, and of course I accept the assurance given by the noble Baroness. I am very glad that she has made these direct statements about the intention in relation to the instructions to be given to the commission. Of course, what will happen in such a case is that the doctor concerned will refuse to show the records without the individual being consulted, and if there is some sort of code of conduct, as it were, for the inspectors, they will no doubt have something to which to refer. In view of those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Prohibition notices]:

THE EARL OF COURTOWN moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 22, line 18, at end insert— (5) Where a prohibition notice has been served under subsection (2) above and the place of work under the control of the person in question is not the registered office (within the meaning of the Companies Act 1948) an inspector shall cause to be delivered to the said office within such period, as may be prescribed, a copy of this said notice. (6) Nothing in the preceding subsection shall invalidate the service of a prohibition notice by an inspector under subsection (2) above by reason alone of the non-delivery of the said copy of the notice under Subsection (5) above.

The noble Earl said: This clause is rightly in the Bill to deal with the situation when an inspector finds activities which involve a risk of serious personal injury. It enables him to serve a prohibition notice, which may take immediate effect if the injury is imminent. I should not expect that it would be necessary to issue many of these, but clearly the power should be in the Bill. The clause states that the prohibition notice is to be served on the person in control of the activities in question. The object of this Amendment is to require an inspector to deliver a copy of the prohibition notice to the registered office of the company concerned if it is not the same place as that in which the condemned activities are taking place. It should of course be the responsibility of the person in control of the dangerous activities to inform his superiors. Nevertheless, it would be a useful safeguard if the inspector is required to deliver a copy to the registered office.

The person in control of the activity may be a not very senior official. It might, for instance, be a warehouse with only a small number of employees where this dangerous work is going on. The person in control may not realise the importance of the notice, and similar activities may be going on in other establishments of the same company in other parts of the country which also ought to be stopped. We should also provide, so far as we can, for human failings in that the person in control, if he is doing something that is outside what he ought to be doing, may try to cover up what has happened by not informing his superiors.

At the same time, the Amendment does not weaken in any way the effect of the prohibition notice on the activities to which it directly relates, and subsection (6) in my Amendment ensures that the non-delivery of the notice to the registered office does not invalidate it. If, therefore—and such cases might arise—the inspector cannot identify the registered office, or a copy goes astray in the post, the prohibition notice still carries full weight with the establishment where the activities are to be stopped. If this Amendment could be accepted, I think that it would provide an additional safeguard which would be valuable. I beg to move.

7.13 p.m.


I am afraid that I cannot accept this Amendment either, on grounds both of practicality and of principle. I should say right away that the Commission will normally want to ensure, so far as they can, that where a site manager or works manager has been given a prohibition notice, the firm's head office knows about it so that they too can take action. This is quite reasonable. But the Amendment is not possible because, in the first place on the practical side, the whole essence of a prohibition notice must be speed in dealing with serious dangers. I am sure that the noble Earl will agree with that. An inspector should not be delayed by having to find out where the head office of a registered company is, and copying a prohibition notice to it. I know that in many cases this may be just a formal and simple thing to do, but in other cases it can be very time consuming. What we are hoping the inspectors will be doing is spending their time on accident prevention, and we should not burden them with more clerical work than is necessary.

Secondly, on the principle, the Amendment seeks to place a statutory duty on inspectors to perform functions which should properly be carried out by the firm in accordance with instructions from senior management within the company. The whole question of responsibility, both on the part of employers and employees, is extremely important, and I think that it would be wrong to pre-empt management functions in legislation in this way. What one hopes is that once this legislation is passed, and once all the contents are working and in action, that head offices of companies will make it part of then-business, and a very great responsibility, to make sure that they are informed and are in touch, and know when a prohibition notice has been issued to any of their subsidiaries, branches, or whatever it may be. It really is up to them. It would be quite wrong not to put the responsibility on them to issue the necessary instructions to their various plants.

That apart—and that really is the main part—the wording of the Amendment as drafted presents legal and practical difficulties. What, for instance, is to be the time prescribed for sending a copy of the notice? If the provision were to be of any use to companies, it would have to be almost immediately in the case of a prohibition notice—but that would take no acount of the difficulties that the inspector might find in seeking out the company's correct address, and other things about it. The proposal that non-delivery of a notice should not invalidate the notice could give grounds for argument about whether it had been sent at all, which would be completely unconnected with the core of the matter, which is the prevention of imminent dangers. In other words, we do not want to get a situation where the head office of a firm says, "We are very sorry. We did not have any notice of this, and from what we understand from our plant we are not sure about the serving of the notice and we haven't heard." Therefore, there could be a great deal of unnecessary argument, and the essential thing to be done could in fact be delayed.

There is another point. What is to be the sanction against the inspector who does not comply with this duty either through pressure of work or through difficulty in finding the head office? Under the noble Earl's Amendment he would still be liable. Therefore, there would be some sanction which is not mentioned that could be exercised against him.

What I hope—and I hope that the noble Earl will settle for this—is that the noble Earl will not press this Amendment on the basis that it would be unreasonable and undesirable to make this a statutory duty. I hope that he will take my assurance that the Commission would normally want to ensure, so far as they can, that the head office of any firm has been notified. I hope that he will be content to leave it like that.


I thank the noble Baroness for her statement. I would entirely agree, as in fact I said before, that every company should be responsible through its normal managerial structure for the carrying out of activities in the proper manner. One of the difficulties in this case is that there are likely to be—at least I hope and believe there are likely to be—very few of these, so that if you get a prohibition notice and an instruction is sent down the line "do something with it", it is likely to become neglected simply because people have never seen one before, or they see one possibly once in their working lifetime.

Nevertheless, I entirely agree on this question of responsibility. I also agree that the inspector should not be required to do a lot of clerical work, but if he makes out a prohibition notice I would not mind betting that he has to send a copy of it to the office of the Commission or somewhere. It is such a serious matter that I should say that a copy would go somewhere, and I understood the noble Baroness to say that, even if it was not in Statute (and I can quite see the point of not having a thing like this in Statute), it would be regarded as a responsibility of the Commission that they advise the head office, or make sure that the head office of any concern knows about this. I understood the noble Baroness to say that. Is that right?


The Commission would normally want to ensure, so far as they can, that where a site manager or works manager has been given a prohibition notice, the firm's head office know about it so that they, too, can take action. I am sure that the noble Earl will agree that it must be in the Commission's interest to ensure that this goes along the line and that this is one of the ways of preventing future offences taking place.


In view of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clauses 23 to 26 agreed.

Clause 27. [Obtaining of information by the Commission, the Executive, enforcing authorities etc.]:

7.20 p.m.

BARONESS BIRK moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 26, line 23, at end insert ("or the Executive")

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee I should like to move two Amendments, Nos. 27 and 28, to Clauses 27 and 28. These are both purely drafting Amendments and are two consequentials which were missed. Clause 13(1)(a) was amended in another place to make clear that the functions of the Executive, as well as those of the Commission, could be delegated under agency agreement. These consequentials were missed on that occasion. They make clear that those performing the Executive functions on its behalf may receive and disclose information as the Executive's officers. I beg to move.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28. [Restrictions on disclosure of information.]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 28.

Amendment moved—

Page 27, line 31, at end insert ("or the Executive")—(Baroness Birk.)

Clause 28, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 29. [Offences.]:

BARONESS BIRK moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 29, line 19, leave out ("(4)")

The noble Baroness said: This is another drafting Amendment, linked with Clause 14, concerning powers to hold inquiries and regulations which may be made under the clause as to the conduct of such inquiries. The regulation making power is contained in paragraph (b) of Clause 14(4) which is quoted in Clause 29 as at present drafted, "detailing only particular aspects of the plan. The Amendment is therefore needed to ensure that the breach of any regulations governing the conduct of inquiries, not just the specific regulations mentioned in sub- section (4) of Clause 14, will be an offence. I beg to move.

Clause 29, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 30 to 44 agreed to.

Clause 45. [Adaptation of enactments to metric units.]:

7.25 p.m.

BARONESS BIRK moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 42, line 7, leave out ("section") and insert ("subsection").

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 30, 31, 32 and 33, as they are all concerned with adaptation of enactments to the metric unit. The aim of the clause is to enable metrication regulations of three different kinds to be made; namely, regulations which substitute metric measure for non-metric measure, regulations which substitute a current internationally recognised metric measurement for an outdated metric measurement and regulations which delete a reference to a non-metric unit of measurement when no amount is mentioned as, for instance, when a Factory Act provision says that pressure is to be measured in pounds per square inch. These Amendments make clear that regulations can be made for all these purposes and in particular for the purpose of substituting a current metric measurement for an outdated one. That is the effect of the new words at the end of subsection (1). It also now makes clear that regulations under subsection (3), which delete references to measurements, may only delete references to units of measurements, not an amount, such as 10 lb. per square inch.


I beg to move Amendments Nos. 31, 32 and 33.

Amendments moved—

Page 42, leave out lines 16 and 17 and insert: ("by substituting an amount or quantity expressed in metric units for an amount or quantity not so expressed or by substituting an amount or quantity expressed in metric units of a description specified in the regulations for an amount or quantity expressed in metric units of a different description.").

Page 42, Line 22, leave out subsection (3) and insert the following subsection— ("(3) Regulations made under this subsection may, in the case of a provision which falls within any of paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (1) above and contains words which refer to units other than metric units, repeal those words if the authority who has power to make the regulations is of the opinion that those words could be omitted without altering the effect of that provision.").

Page 42, Line 28, leave out ("this section") and insert ("subsection (1) or (3) above").—(Baroness Birk.)

Clause 45, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 46 to 48 agreed to.

Clause 49 [General interpretation of Part I]:

BARONESS BIRK moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 45, leave out lines 5 to 8 and insert— (" "hire-purchase agreement" means an agreement other than a conditional sale agreement, under which—

  1. (a) goods are bailed or (in Scotland) hired in return for periodical payments by the person to whom they are bailed or hired; and
  2. (b) the property in the goods will pass to that person if the terms of the agreement are complied with and one or more of the following occurs;
    1. (i) the exercise of an option to purchase by that person;
    2. (ii) the doing of any other specified act by any party to the agreement:
    3. (iii) the happening of any other event;").

The noble Baroness said: This is a purely drafting Amendment which brings the definition of hire-purchase in the Bill into line with the new definition of hire-purchase provided in the Consumer Credit Bill, which noble Lords have already considered and approved in this Session. I beg to move.

Clause 49, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 [Functions of, and responsibility for maintaining, employment medical advisory service.]

7.29 p.m.

THE EARL OF COURTOWN moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 47, line 35, leave out ("and employees") and insert ("employees and occupational health practitioners ")

The noble Earl said: On Second Reading I said I regretted that in the Bill there was no reference to occupational health services as maintained by various large organisations in the private and public sectors and in some groups of companies. I believe they are valuable in many ways to these organisations and to those who work for them. They are also complementary to the Employment Medical Advisory Service, relieve the National Health Service doctors of a load and provide means of diagnosing potential toxic hazards at an early stage.

One of the main reasons why these services have been slow to develop—and this, I know, they feel—is that for too long they have been isolated from the main stream of medicine. As long ago as 1951 the Dale Report recommended the further development of occupational health services in industry and called for close co-operation with the National Health Service. Equivalent recomendations were made by the Report of Lord Porritt's Committee in 1962. Inclusion in this clause as one of the bodies to be kept informed will give them more official recognition and will help them in their work. I beg to move.


This is a useful Amendment. I am prepared to accept it.


May I say what a great deal of sympathy I have with this Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, and how very pleased I am that it has in fact been accepted by our Front Bench.

Clause 51, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 52 to 73 agreed to.

Clause 74 [Amendment of Fire Precautions Act 1971]:

On Question, Whether Clause 74 shall stand part of the Bill?


This clause extends very considerably the Minister's power to designate premises for which a fire certificate is compulsory. The addition of the words: use as a place of work at the bottom of page 75 adds all factories and workshops employing under 20 people; and, at the top of the next page, page 76, the removal of exemptions in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act brings in all offices containing less than 20 people altogether or 10 above the ground floor, which were exempted previously. I do not quarrel with the need to ensure that all places of work are as safe as reasonably possible. In fact, some of these small workshops in old buildings may provide considerable fire hazards—greater, indeed, than larger establishments. There are many thousands of establishments—indeed, probably tens of thousands—of such sizes which will be added to the load of the fire inspectors by this clause.

We have heard of the difficulties of the fire prevention officers in meeting the existing demands on their services. This has been referred to on a number of occasions in the Press and elsewhere. I suggest that, with their present numbers, they will not be able to take on the load implied by this clause. The task of a fire prevention officer requires great skill, to ensure a sufficient degree of safety without interfering unduly with the work to be carried out. It is not a job to be done by an unskilled person. Therefore, I urge that the Government should give an assurance that they will not issue regulations to extend the range of premises requiring a fire certificate until they are satisfied that the skilled fire prevention officers are available to enable their task to be properly carried out. I have received representations from certain areas in industry and commerce that they are worried about the fact that regulations will be issued for fire certificates to be provided before the departments concerned have sufficient fire prevention officers to carry out the work.


I must admit that I am impressed by what the noble Earl has said on this matter. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give him an answer at this stage, because this is one of the few items in the Bill which are the responsibility of another Department. They are the responsibility of the Home Office, and they have not been sitting here all afternoon, unfortunately, waiting for the possibility that a question on one of their clauses might be raised. So, if the noble Earl will allow me, I will have the matter examined and, if it is the best way of doing it, I will write to him.


Perhaps I should apologise for not giving notice that I was to raise this point. Perhaps the noble Lord could say, if he finds that this is a situation which makes for some restraint in the issue of regulations, that the Government will ensure that common sense is used in this case.



Clause 74 agreed to.

Clauses 75 to 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 [Extent, and application of Act]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 36, which is purely a drafting Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 82, line 8, leave out ("paragraph (a)") and insert ("the words" by an inspector, or"").—(Lord Hughes.)

Clause 80, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Existing enactments which are relevant statutory provisions.]:


Again, Amendment No. 37 is purely a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 84, line 12, at end insert—("1961 c. 64. The Public Health Act 1961. Section 73.").—(Lord Hughes.)

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules 2 to 5 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Amendments of Building (Scotland) Act 1959.]:


Again, Amendment No. 38 is a drafting Amendment designed merely to remove a possible ambiguity. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 105, line 33, leave out ("Crown building") and insert ("building, part or all of which is of the class to which the direction relates,").—(Lord Hughes.)


Amendment No. 39 is the same as the previous Amendment—purely drafting. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 105, line 41, leave out ("class") and insert ("type").—(Lord Hughes.)

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules 7 and 8 agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Repeals.]:


Amendment No. 40 is the last Amendment and, appropriately, it is also a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 108, line 23, at end insert—("1972 c. 70. The Local Government Act 1972. In Schedule 14, paragraph 43.")—(Lord Hughes.)

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with Amendments.